Review : A week with the MG TF LE500


A busy week… First a trip to Longbridge for the first UK drives of the MG6 and, as you’ll no doubt have read elsewhere, the UK press has come away impressed by what’s been achieved by the lads at Longbridge – they’ve undoubtedly done what they needed to and created a car at or near the top of the class dynamically.

Mind you, they do like to tinker at Longbridge. I met up with Ian Pogson, Chief Engineer – After Sales Engineering, whilst there – Ian’s the chirpy Blackpudlian turned Brummie with whom I’ve been corresponding for years over this and that so it was good to put a face to a name. The day turned out even better when Ian gave me a personal tour of the site and introduced me to the people directly responsible for the way the MG6 drives. It’s not often you get that level of access to a car manufacturer.

Anyway, before I left, Ian offered me a drive of the company’s MG TF 85th Anniversary edition, promising that I’d be impressed with just how well this version handles. I must admit that my experience of the open-topped MG has been far from extensive: I’ve driven plenty of Fs and absolutely love the Hydragas set-up, but felt that the early TFs were a massive step back from what Alex Moulton and the Longbridge Hydragssers achieved…

However, it’s been good to experience this 2009-registered MG TF, one of what must have been the final batch to run off the line at Longbridge. Having seen the way the car has been built, I’m happy and confident to describe it as a ‘hand-built’ British sports car.

I drove the TF down to Goodwood on Thursday and have to say that it has really grown on me – which is saying something, as I already liked it a lot. I left AROnline Towers at 5.30am and, despite it being dark and cold, I lowered the hood (a five-second operation) squeezed down into the cold leather and set-off… the lovely thing about the K-Series (I don’t care what they call  it now), is that it warms up quickly and so, by the end of my high street, the heater was pumping out hot air.

Actually, by the time I hit the (stationary) M1 near Milton Keynes, I was glowing from a nice drive down the A509. It’s a good road for the TF as there are countless sweeping bends, nicely sighted, and beautifully surfaced while, at that time in the morning, it’s not choked by 40mph articulated lorries. My first thoughts were that the steering was beautifully weighted and full of road feel, while the turn-in and high speed body control were first rate. It doesn’t feel like a balls-out sports car, though, and that’s down to the ride, which is almost MGF-like in its absorbancy.

All in all, this incarnation of the TF feels mature and well-sorted and it seems almost tragic to me that, at the point they perfect the product, they stop making it. That said, it could be argued that after being in production (in TF form) since 2002, they bloody well should get it right. At Goodwood, the car cartainly attracted attention although, with the stripes and flowery alloys, it’s a bit Marmite, with some people loving it (like me) and others hating it.

Living with the TF has been surprisingly simple – and, just like I did with the MG6, there have been a couple of moments when I’ve found myself thinking to myself that I could actually own one of these. Dangerous indeed, but it’s true. The MG TF seems to fit me like a glove – I can get in and out without looking too undignified; the view out is fine; the controls are just about perfect for me; and the equipment pack is missing nothing essential other than heated seats – even then, the K-Series engine makes up for that deficiency perfectly.

The other important attraction for the TF for me is this – it has soul. I’ve never felt anything other than admiration for the Mazda MX-5 as an engineering exercise, but it simply leaves me cold. It’s a bit of a default choice for those who are afraid to get their hands dirty, whereas the MG TF (and F, of course) is a warts-and-all alternative, which oozes the personalities of its Designers and Engineers. That’s why I love ’em.

On the way back from Goodwood, I drove through Olney and passed the old Souls dealership there. Outside, there’s an unsold TF LE500 in black with black wheels with a £11,999 sticker on the screen. I was tempted. Very tempted… A good job the place was closed…

More TF updates as they happen.

Keith Adams

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